Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park
AS FAR AS season openers go, last night was the perfect start to life under Kevin Martin for Offaly.
Much of the talk heading into the Division 1B clash against Dublin surrounded Pat Gilroy and his maiden competitive game in charge, but Offaly grabbed the headlines in some style for their first Croke Park victory in almost 13 years.
Martin is Offay’s fourth manager in the last four years, a sign of the tough times the county have endured of late. A double All-Ireland winner and two-time All-Star during his playing days, Martin has restored an attractive style of hurling to the county team.
They played with a sense of freedom and flair during the 2-25 to 1-13 victory that Offaly supporters haven’t witnessed in some time.
Even accounting for Cork’s win over Kilkenny, Offaly’s 13-point victory was the story of the night. While it’s important not to read too much into one game, this result and performance will bring renewed optimism that the team is on an upward curve.
“I tell ya, I’m absolutely delighted for Offaly tonight,” Tommy Walsh gushed on the eir Sport coverage.
“They’re such great hurling men in Offaly, they’ve had tough years the last couple of years after the great teams of the 90s. Great hurling people. That’s a massive win.”
The trio of returning players from the inter-county wilderness - Colin Egan, Conor Mahon and Dan Currams – brought a physicality up front that troubled Dublin from the off.
Egan landed three scores of the highest quality, while Currams clipped over a brace including a fine effort from near the sideline. Playing in his first county game since 2014, Mahon caused Dublin problems at full-forward and won the penalty that Shane Dooley drilled home shortly after half-time.
“We were outfought and outworked there by Offaly,” a disappointed Gilroy said afterwards. “They’re a strong team, a physical team. They worked very hard for each other. And they outplayed us. There can be no argument from us.”
Offaly’s use of possession and superior stick work saw them frequently play their way out of trouble. Some good recycling of the ball helped them set-up unmarked players like Egan and Shane Kinsella for some superb scores from distance.
“I have to say it was a really good performance,” said Martin. “I wasn’t surprised. They worked hard. We were in a really good place during the week.
“Mentally they (Offaly) were strong. I have to say they really performed. We knew Dublin were going to bring a physicality to it and we had to match them. That’s what we were training for. To get up here and get fit and get strong.”
Offaly scored just a point from play in the third quarter as Dublin edged back to within five points. The Faithful responded to that dip by outscoring their opponents by 1-6 to 0-1 down the stretch in impressive fashion.
As Dublin chased the game, Martin pulled wing-forward Damien Egan back as a spare defender and brought pacey youngster Liam Langton off the bench into a two-man full-forward line.
It allowed the visitors absorb the Dublin pressure, before expertly hitting them on the counter attack. Langton scored Offaly’s second goal seconds after his introduction.
Martin continued: “We have the hurlers. It’s only January, we’re not going to get carried away. It’s one week. But it’s a step in the right direction and it’s positive.
“There’s optimism around the county the last couple of weeks. But I have to say when the boys got a sniff that we could win the game, they did push on.
“It’s confidence. And we have to start building confidence. That’s what we’ve been lacking the last number of years. It’s a work in progress.”
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